How much do you want those 'Hannah' tickets?

Times Staff Writers

There's been parental panic in Portland, Ore., severe tropical depression in Tampa, Fla., and a mad scramble in Minneapolis. There was so much outrage among families in Little Rock that the Arkansas attorney general promised a swift investigation, as did his counterpart in Missouri after seeing the dust-up in Kansas City.

All over the country, little girls are crying that they want -- they need -- tickets to see their idol, a 14-year-old named Miley Cyrus (a.k.a. Hannah Montana) in concert, and from coast to coast that has pushed mommies and daddies to extreme measures. That's why some scalpers and brokers are asking for as much as $3,000 a ticket, politicians have been staging news conferences and Ticketmaster officials have been ducking for cover.

"Hell hath no fury like the parent of a child throwing a tantrum," said a weary Joe Freeman, vice president of Ticketmaster. "People who have been in this business for a long time are watching what's happening, and they say there hasn't been a demand of this level or intensity since the Beatles or Elvis."

Reasons for that include parents who are out of practice when it comes to buying concert tickets and their children who, apparently, are unaccustomed to disappointment. Then there are all the scalpers who use sophisticated software to scoop up thousands of seats in minutes, essentially "cutting the line" on ordinary fans trying to get a few tickets.

That's why the 54-date arena tour by Cyrus, star of the Disney Channel hit show "Hannah Montana," now has parents calculating how much it will cost them not to break their daughters' hearts.

Jennifer Cox of Raleigh, N.C., has tried -- and failed so far -- to get her 9-year-old daughter into any Cyrus show she can find across several states.

"Greensboro, Nashville, Atlanta, Washington, Baltimore -- they were all sold out," Cox said Friday. "It would be as close to her dream coming true as possible. It's unfortunate that a lot of investors bought these tickets to turn around and make a huge profit off them. There are huge Miley Cyrus fans that would love to go, but they've made the tickets unaffordable."

Some buyers are at wits' end. Take this Internet posting by a frazzled aunt in San Antonio who sounded as if she were negotiating with kidnappers, not ticket brokers: "I will meet you at a neutral location. I will pay you cash. Do not ask me for my best offer or what I am willing to pay. . . this is for two little girls who are [being] ripped off by people who are taking advantage of the loyal fans for their own personal gain."

Such anger has prompted action by politicians such as Missouri Atty. Gen. Jay Nixon, who pounced on the issue by filing lawsuits against three out-of-state ticket brokers selling seats to the Kansas City show.

"It's a blatant rip-off of the consumer," Nixon said Thursday as he announced that he had reached an agreement with promoters and Ticketmaster to release an additional 2,000 seats at two shows in his state. Officials close to the tour disputed that characterization (they said tickets would have been released anyway), but Nixon probably scored points with some exasperated parents in the Show-Me State.

If all of this fuss sounds startling, you probably don't have a daughter who dances in front of the mirror singing "Nobody's Perfect," "The Other Side of Me" or other glossy, Disney-safe hits of "Hannah Montana," one of the biggest brand names with grade-school America.

Cyrus' two albums both debuted at No. 1 on the U.S. pop charts and sold a combined 4.4 million copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan. More than that, her TV show has been a weekly advertisement for the tour. That makes her famous with little ones even if adults are scratching their heads.

"Hannah Montana, to me, she's not a big star," said April Martin of Carrollton, Texas, who is facing the prospect of breaking her promise to her little sister about taking her to see her hero. "She understands that I don't make a whole lot of money. It's very hard to say no to a kid. . . . If kids really want something, it's really important, you want to give it to them."

The tour kicks off in St. Louis on Oct. 18 and stops in Anaheim on Nov. 3 and L.A. on Nov. 7. The resale frenzy is making other top touring acts this year -- the Police, Bruce Springsteen, Van Halen and Beyonce -- seem so last century.

On Stubhub.com, a leading online marketplace for tickets, the average selling price for a Cyrus ticket was $214 -- which was higher than the Police ($209) or Beyonce ($212). And the starting face value of a Miley Cyrus ticket ($29 to $66) is notably less than those of the tickets to see the older stars. StubHub officials called Cyrus sales "astounding" and noted that, by volume, her sales topped all others this year.

Those numbers haven't escaped the notice of the tour promoter, AEG Live. Randy Phillips, the company's president and chief executive, said Friday that one obvious solution is to add shows.

"I would like to have 100 more shows," he said. "I am a capitalist, right? Every ticket we've put out, we've sold. I think, to be honest, we were surprised at the size and the extent of the momentum. I would love to have more tickets to sell."

It's not that easy. There are some child labor issues involved in some states, but an even bigger problem is Disney's plan for its young star: A script is in the final stages for a "Hannah Montana" feature film, and spring has been circled as the optimum filming time.

"Miley would like to stay on the road forever, but it's not that simple," said Gary Marsh, Disney Channel Worldwide's president of entertainment. Marsh spoke Friday by phone from Cannes, France, where he was traveling on business but where friends and relatives are still bothering him with ticket requests. "Mine are long gone; they ran out the first day."

"Hannah Montana's" success builds on the sensation of the Disney Channel's made-for-TV movie "High School Musical," whose soundtrack was the bestselling CD in America last year and whose sequel this year was also a hit. There's also the pop group Cheetah Girls, a franchise that crosses over from television to the music charts.

Overall, the U.S. market share represented by children's music has tripled over the last 10 years, according to the Recording Industry Assn. of America. At the fore of the scene is Disney, which has a long history of shaping the careers of young music stars, among them Annette Funicello, Hayley Mills, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and Hilary Duff.

With the "Montana" success, though, the model seems closer to that of "The Monkees," "The Partridge Family" and, closest of all, Ricky Nelson, the heartthrob who came into homes in the sitcom setting of "The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet" and connected through stories and songs.

"You only have to look back 50 years to see when it worked the first time. . . . It's so simple it's scary," Marsh said, adding that the scripts relay to fans "Hannah Montana's backstory, her friends, what boys she likes. . . . They feel like they know her. For us, it's the path to audience. Radio used to be the gatekeeper, but TV is the new radio."

"Hannah Montana" centers on an unassuming girl-next-door named Miley Stewart who seems to have a normal life in Southern California but has a secret identity as the world-famous pop star Hannah Montana, a sort of "Prince and the Pauper" story for the YouTube generation.

Cyrus' real-life dad, country singer Billy Ray Cyrus, also plays her father on the show a la "Ozzie & Harriet." On her "Best of Both Worlds" tour, Cyrus will perform two sets, one as herself and the other as her TV alter ego.

In August, Miley and her dad were in Anaheim at Downtown Disney to attend a premiere of "High School Musical 2." The crowd seemed euphoric when the star showed up, and, during a quiet moment of reflection, the elder Cyrus confided that even his family has days when it feels like the whole "Hannah Montana" phenomenon is beyond its reach.

"It's been a whirlwind," he said, "but she's handling it well, and I think it's just going to get bigger and it's going to get wilder. The hard thing is being a father to her during all this, honestly."

--

geoff.boucher@latimes.com

chris.lee@latimes.com

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
66°